Christianity · Formation

Formation 2.0

The second year of Formation approaches. So far, unlike last year, there have been no dramatic abreactions from my subconscious. Sinead remains silent.

I am however approaching second year with a very mixed gait, a combination of skipping and a walk to the headmaster’s office. Since I have realized part of my spiritual malaise of late has been my lack of writing, I’m going to explore why here. This may take a while.

You’re always on about it

Let’s get a biggie out of the way. The Anglican church seems determined to splinter and fracture and cross each other off our Christmas cards list over the question of how people bonk. I’m sorry, but the recent depressing Pastoral (*cough*) Statement from the good bishops of the Church of England makes this clear: gay folk can live together, have close intimate relations, enter partnerships as much as they want. But not bonk.

It is extraordinarily hard to be part of all this, even in a Diocese that is probs the most loving and sensible on this matter in Australia. The hardest part is the pain this toxic exclusion causes my LGBTIQA+ friends. But it is also hard, because the church is being astoundingly dumb. The best reaction to the Pastoral Statement came from a bisexual Ordinand: “For the umpteenth time: truly, I say unto you, if I marry a man, our marriage will not be heterosexual. Amen.”

The CofE and much of Australian Anglicanism seems to be holding onto the extremely blown apart meme of ‘boy loves girl’, expressed in nice, clear-cut hetero missionary love. This does not exist. It never has. Life is far more complex, diverse and wonderful, as the quote above shows. Sometimes I feel like making whole swathes of the Church watch Ollie from ‘The Thick of It’ explain that, “not everybody is the same”.


It’s a word. Just a word. But it scares the bejesus out of some folk. And you know, I never really knew this until recently. Some folk, at the end of it all, when the glorious eschaton is upon us, actually want there to be people who do not make it, who are not part of the elite ‘God Club’, who are consigned to burn in flames for eternity. They want this. Cos, well if life teaches us anything, you can’t have winners without losers.

This does my bloody head in. If the Gospel, not life, tells us anything, it is that we are all going to be winners, because the Triune Divine made us that way – in Her image.

I recently read David Bentley Hart’s ‘That All Shall Be Saved’. A good book for arguments and scriptural referencing, but as he himself states, “none of this should need saying”. I cannot compare myself to DBH, but like him I worked out the logical fallacies of infernalist Christianity shortly after encountering it in within those all so beige high school prayer groups. And yet it persists.

I feel like I am wading through 1500 years of toxic theological poo to even begin to talk about these things in Formation. I was muted on the matter last year, but intend to be more vocal this year. It’s 2.0 after all. And of course, this is all perfectly orthodox. I mean, it’s all in my fave quote from MLK.

mlk a4 QUOTE

Keep your head down

This is the advice often given to new Formation candidates. Play nice, tick the boxes, get through. My response: no.

Formalized, Complex and Costly

The other day, I snapped alert out of my early morning reverie when I realized I have done all my theology units in my Masters degree. I’m supposed to know stuff. My response: no.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Formation has not been, and does not promise to be anytime soon, easy for me. Regardless of the pressures of time, work, study etc, theologically, I do not think Formation can be easy. As the name suggests, we are being formed towards the imago dei. Each imago dei, each person, is unique. The Triune Divine works and forms each of us personally, uniquely. We are therefore ‘operated upon’ in a completely different way than our fellow Candidates, in a unique way to match our unique imaging of the Triune Divine. This means we are necessarily alone in our process, in our Formation. That other Candidates don’t seem to be going through this soul-stretching mincing machine, remains one of life’s unsolved mysteries.

The other side of this of course, is that Formation is also where we unite through what connects us – that we are all made imago dei. We connect through the imprint of our Creator’s will within us and Her love for us. Our difference, like within the Triune Personhood, is what fosters and creates community. I have experienced this, becoming close and friends with folk I would never have dreamed of before. And it’s lonely.

So … Formation 2020, v.2.0 here we come … stayed tuned 🙂

only here mass

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

Sermon, September 11, 2019

1 Kings 8.37-53 (Morning Prayer). Colossians 3.1-11. Luke 6.20-26

May my mouth and our hearts be opened in the name of the Living God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our readings today, like the Eucharist, give a foretaste of the Kingdom. Actually, if we fully attend to them, they draw us into that foretaste, where opposites are reconciled and the eschatological reversal, characteristic of the Kingdom, is made real.

Lest we are tempted, however, for a single moment to indulge our egos in that foretaste, or assume that this may be our final state, our Gospel is also confronting, the reading from Kings at Morning Prayer reminds us that “there is no one who does not sin”, and we have to acknowledge the evil connected with this day, September 11.

Eighteen years ago, two key themes of our gospel, reversal of fortune and vulnerability, became a catastrophic reality for 3000 people at the heart of the most powerful, most secure empire on earth. Today, we and the world remember them.

We remember also the false prophecies that arose in the wake of this tragedy, promulgated by men who were ‘spoken well of’. False prophecies that had their own Orwellian reversals and another in a long line of wars to ensure peace, which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands. And today, we remember them also.

However, unless we have an interest in modern history or were raised in a military family, we may not remember the firestorms of the Second World War: devasting bombing raids involving hundreds of bombers focused on a single city. Such a Firestorm occurred over Darmstadt on September 11, 1944. Over 8000 people were killed, virtually all of them civilians. Today, few people remember them.

This is not to discount or relativize the deaths in the United States or to deny we need to act against the threat of evil – that would be crass and foolhardy. It simply to acknowledge that where empire exists, evil persists. And that evil is too much for us to bear – we can’t even remember the victims.

Our faith tells us that to counter empire and defeat this evil Christ incarnates, sanctifying the whole of Creation and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

As we have seen, for Luke this coming Kingdom is connected with reversals; it begins with that amazing, unprovoked song of revolution, the Magnificat five chapters earlier, where the powerful are brought down, the lowly lifted, the hungry filled and the rich dismissed with naught. Jesus then, is following his Mother’s good example.

Before the Gospel today he has come down from a Mountain with his disciples to a level place. Now, Luke somehow has Jesus ‘looking up’ to his disciples. He then pronounces four extraordinary blessings and four challenging woes.

The poor, the hungry, the weeping and the reviled are blessed and a reversal is coming or in the case of the poor already in existence … the Kingdom is theirs now, not in the future.

Conversely, the full, the laughing and respected are warned and a calamitous reversal is coming or, in the case of the rich, there is no further comfort to come.

How are we to comprehend this? We can take the easy route and side with one perplexed commentator when he wrote, “I don’t understand this, and neither do you!”.

We may rescue the text a little, focusing on future promises, and hope we don’t fall into a vapid “it will all be right in heaven”. This ignores present suffering – and of course it doesn’t explain the poor of the text being told theirs is the Kingdom NOW.

We may view the text as Jesus distinguishing between mundane, worldly and easily understood values, and those of God which are radical and opaque, inviting faith not understanding. Such a dichotomy though makes it all too easy to assign ideas, theologies and people to one category or the other.

Interpretation is not easy, and obviously Luke never meant it to be.

Another way is to focus on the text as depicting extreme vulnerability and change, not so much as interpreters, but as disciples and see where that leads us.

In the text, Jesus is surrounded by a “great multitude” of vulnerable people – those looking for healing and exorcism – the unclean and expendable. Empire and religion have taken everything from these people; they have no food, no money, no joy of life and no reputation.

However, by declaring that the Kingdom is theirs NOW, Jesus affirms, the one thing that empire and religion cannot steal, the one prerequisite for the Kingdom – their humanity, their personhood. Being created by God, no mortal power can touch our personhood – no matter who we are, rich or poor, outcast or accepted, rejoicing or grieving.

And no matter who we are, we are subject not only to vulnerability but to change; the crying, rejoice, and the grieving, laugh.  The ultimate change and vulnerability though is not loss of food, status, money or merriment, it is death. And so, we come to the final reversal, that of life to death and death to life within our Lord Jesus Christ.

So perhaps the function of these reversals in Luke, is to point to the One who reconciles them all in himself, who destroyed forever the barriers we erect between us and them, insider and excluded, rejected and loved.

In a moment we will consume this collapsing of human created barriers bodily as we partake of the One Bread as the One Body. And as one body, we know that while there is one person in the world who is hungry, we are all hungry; while there is one person who is weeping, we are all weeping. For this is the way of the Kingdom which the Eucharist opens for us now.

This way, as Paul reminded the Colossians is one where distinctions of religion, nation and status cease. Not because there is a homogenous collapsing and eradication of difference, but because difference fosters community. True community centres around that which unites us – our common personhood, our common vulnerability to change and to death and so therefore, our common reliance on He who once was dead but now lives forever.

And what does this profound theological reflection of Paul’s have to say to us today, as ecclesia, called out to this Holy Hill, discerning the will of God? What might it say to us as we descend the hill and serve on the level places, where we may, like Christ lower ourselves, and look up at his disciples as a servant leader? Might it be that we as church have also been stripped of the old self, and are clothed with the new? Might it be that this new self is constantly being renewed. And in that renewal there is no longer Evangelical and Catholic, no longer priest and male priest, no longer gay and straight … no longer Sydney and Perth; but that Christ is all and in all. Amen.


Sermon, Luke 10.1-12, 17-24

Text of a sermon preached at St John’s Anglican Church, Fremantle 7 July 2019. Audio here.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Blessed are the eyes that see, what you see”

Now, just to be clear, the Gospel here is also talking about our eyes, what we see.

Because, the Gospel today not only recounts the sending forth of disciples and the proclamation of the Kingdom, but it also invites – in fact, it demands – us to participate in this proclamation. It draws us deep into the story itself, making us part of the Gospel, part of the Good News.

It is interesting to note where today’s reading sits as part of the modern structure of Luke. At the start of the previous chapter, Jesus commissions the twelve disciples in a similar way to the commissioning of the 70 in today’s reading.

There is clearly an expansion here. And Jesus, of course, knows what he is doing because the 70 are to proclaim the Kingdom “to every town and place” where he intended to go. And we know where Christ, upon his return will be found – in every town and every place. This theme of expansion reaches a peak at the start of the following chapter, where we hear the words,

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.”

A form of the prayer that is the paramount act of worship and hopeful anticipation of the Kingdom. From the 12, to the 70, to a prayer for the Kingdom prayed across the world and in every language.

The most striking and magnificent aspect of this glorious expansion is often missed.  It is there right in front of us towards the end of the reading today.

“Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”

Jesus said to them privately – and yet we hear it, we see it in the Gospel. And so, we are drawn into the private and intimate conversation and communion between Jesus and his disciples. If we attend to the Gospel at this point, it casts its divine power over us and positions us as Christ’s disciples. And so, it is we who must continue the expansion of the work of proclaiming the Kingdom.

Now the 70 were directed to leave home with very little, to cure the sick and proclaim the Kingdom, which the Gospel implicitly suggests they did successfully – with the odd bit of unasked for demon subduing along the way. This may seem a bit of an ask for us modern disciples, but the key to their success – and our success – is obedience. The demons did not submit to the disciples, but to the name of Jesus. In modern parlance, the 70 left their egos at home.

Obedience to God. Moving away from our ego. The easiest thing – because we know what we should do – and the hardest thing, because we are forever doing the exact opposite. On our own, our human nature fails.

Perhaps this is why the 70 went in pairs. As Jews they would have been familiar with the tradition that when two or three study the Torah the Shekinah, the presence of God would settle upon them. Travelling in twos, supporting each other in the name of Christ, the presence of God would settle upon their mission and bless their endeavours. And so, it can for us, as walk through our mission – the presence of God is always ready to settle upon us as we practice.

Unlike, the 12, the names of the 70 are not recorded in the Gospels, in the earthly narrative of history, yet they are “written in heaven”. So too with our names – few of us will go down in history, but through our love and action,  our names, our essential personhood may be engraved upon the walls of heaven.

Our shared anonymity with the 70 also points to the blessings with them. The 70 were blessed to see the Messiah in flesh and blood, the Son of God walking among them revealing the Father to whom he chose.

We do not have Christ physically with us now, yet we have the exact same blessings. We still see that which prophets and kings longed to see, but did not see. We still hear what they did not hear.

Every week we see the Gospel of our Lord, the Word of God, come down from the high altar, symbolizing the heavenly places. The Word of God comes among us. As the Book processes down, our attention is caught, we turn and our eyes follow the Gospel. And we hear the Good News proclaimed from among us.

Blessed are our eyes, blessed are our ears.

In a moment we will accept the invitation, given freely to all, to commune with God. We will see our priest offer us Christ’s body and blood. We will hear our priest name us as disciples. We will walk towards the heavenly places and as One Body partake in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Blessed are our eyes, blessed are our ears.

These blessings come completely from our free acceptance of our commission to proclaim the Kingdom. It can be that simple, as our Old Testament reading shows us, centuries before the commissioning of the 70. Naaman could not accept the healing, the blessing of God, offered to him, because it was so simple. But all he had to do was obey the prophet of God.

Our free acceptance of mission may be as simple as Naaman’s healing, may be as simple as the 70 stepping forth into the world. Having each of us become part of the Gospel, part of the plan of Jesus, we walk where he intends to walk one day; each of our footsteps will be retraced by Christ. We are forerunners for Christ’s return.

And His kingdom is brought closer as we walk those few steps to talk with a homeless person, sharing our common humanity. It is brought closer by those steps we will make in a few moments when we share God’s great peace with whoever is close to us in church, not simply our spouses, families or friends.

The kingdom is brought closer by those steps we make to walk to our neighbour’s door to hold them in their grief. It is brought closer by stepping into a politician’s office to seek justice, and in those steps where we walk in protest and solidarity with others. It will be brought closer by those steps we make as a parish, placing the welcome sign out the front, running fairs and fundraisers, blessing the grounds of a new Christian school for Fremantle.

As disciples progressing the mission of the 70, we take heart that though sent out as lambs into the midst of wolves, all of the 70 returned in joy – in modern parlance, the world did not get the better of them. And will not get the better of us. And the whether they were welcomed or not, the presence of the 70 proclaimed the Kingdom to whoever they visited. Our simple actions of love as disciples of Christ, whether rejected or not, whether recognised or not, proclaim the Kingdom. All we have to do is walk.

In the Name of Christ.


Christianity · Theology

Easter Origins – the myth that will not die

Once more unto the breach …

The meme of Easter as stolen from the spring celebrations of the Pagan Goddess Eostre was alive and well this year. I can’t spend much time with this, but do hope somehow, somewhere, what emerges here is useful.

Now, I am not whitewashing the “pagan” antecedents and influences on early and later Christian traditions. Everything (us included) has antecedents. It’s just the reality is far more complex than the “Christians stole it from the Pagans” meme suggests. And, of course, this is not to denigrate modern Paganism at all, simply to suggest that memes like this do Paganism no justice. Paganism does not need to define itself against Christianity.

Reference to the Goddess Eostre is found in a single source, De Temporum Ratione (On the Reckoning of Time) written by the Venerable Bede (672/3-735 CE) in 725 CE. He writes:

“Hrethmonath [March] is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time. Eosturmonath [April] has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.”  ( )

And with that the source material dries up. Modern scholars of medieval studies are uncertain about Eostre’s existence:

“It is not possible to say, as it is of Woden, for example, that the Anglo-Saxons definitely worshipped a goddess called Eostre, who was probably concerned with the spring or the dawn.” (Cusack, Carole. “The Goddess Eostre:Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s).”Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, 2007: 28)

eostre_rising_by_areeya-dzb938With such uncertainty about the historical existence of Eostre (which does not negate Her existence for modern Neo-Pagans), we simply cannot assume Her presence and celebrations had any influence on Easter at all. There remains a possible linguistic connection, given the etymology provided by Bede.

However, a more crucial stumbling block to any possible influence emerges when we simply examine the dates.  Pascha (Easter) was celebrated by the early church by the mid second century at the latest. The dating was contested between different churches and a computational method endorsed by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. This is centuries before the conversion of the Saxon kingdoms which began through missions sent by Pope Gregory I in 596/7 CE. The ergo here is easy : if Christianity celebrated Easter before it moved into lands where Eostre may have been worshipped, then She cannot have been the source for the celebration.

It remains logically feasible that the Easter celebrations throughout medieval Europe could have been dramatically influenced and changed by Christianity’s encounter with Eostre (if She existed). However, the evidence is clear that this did not occur, and the central motifs of Easter remained (and remain) intact and unaffected by Christianity’s expansion into the Germanic lands. This is hardly surprising since, even from Bede’s account, there are no motifs attached to Eostre which could have influenced anything at all. So, as wonderful as Eostre may have been, and is for modern Pagans, it is absolutely clear She had no influence on Easter at all. We are free, as modern Pagans do, to develop wonderful and meaningful spiritual connections from scholars’ speculation on the existence and symbolism of Eostre. But we are not free to assert Her celebrations are the historical foundations of Easter.

But the date …

Connected with the Easter stemming from Eostre meme are two other issues: the timing of Easter being derived from the Spring Equinox and thereby having connection with a range of near eastern dawn Goddesses and Jesus as one of several dying and rising near eastern deities.

The existence and importance of dawn Goddesses in the ancient near east is not at issue here. What is important is how these Goddesses and their motifs may have influenced the date and celebration of Easter. The evidence is again clear: the date for the new Christian Pascha derives from the Jewish celebration of Passover. Passover is usually based the Jewish calendar which ultimately comes from the Equinox. That does not however make it Pagan or show any link to dawn Goddesses. And when we think about it, this is obvious – a time of the year or of the day has no inherent religious significance to the exclusion of other religions.

Passover was a spring festival and some sources show its connection to the ripening of barley. Does all this make it Pagan? Only if the theological interpretation of a festival date influenced by ripening barley and the Equinox is Pagan itself. And for Jews, at the period in question, it was not. The One God of Israel caused the ripening of the barley.

The Jewish religion at the time of Christ was monotheistic. It was not always exclusively so, and references to the divine assembly and other deities remain in the Jewish scriptures. But the temple tradition that Jesus encountered was monotheistic. So, for example, the Pagan theological interpretation of the Sun as a deity who caused the ripening of the barley, was long removed from Judaism at this point. The sun and moon were labelled as the greater and lesser lights in the writing of Genesis, because the Hebrew words designating them were also the names of solar and lunar deities in the ancient near east. This monotheistic hermeneutic ran through the entire Jewish religion of the time.

So, the question then becomes, is there evidence that motifs and symbols derived from ancient near eastern dawn Goddesses, despite the monotheism of Judaism, influenced the celebration of Passover, which in turn influenced the Christian Pascha?

The history, symbols and purpose of Passover do show non-Jewish and non-monotheistic influences and antecedents including, probably, apotropaic magic. However, and this is the crucial point, by the time of Christ all of these had been reworked and subsumed into the core motif of the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt by the One God of Israel. And this is the tradition the early Christians grew up in. As they later developed Paschal celebrations to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection at the time of Passover, it was this monotheism that was reworked and developed upon. Not Pagan antecedents already lost to the tradition.

Dying and Rising

ifrazer001p1The popular and academic spread of the concept of the dying and rising deity owes a lot to the work of folklorist James George Frazer (1854 – 1941 CE). His articulation of Jesus as another of these deities was part of the project to disenfranchise Christian exceptionalism (not that there is anything wrong with that). Since his death, most scholars no longer find the category and concept as universal or as useful as he promoted it to be.

Christians will also point out the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, as attested by the majority of scholars. Of course, one may affirm that the dying and rising God motif, if we want to continue to use a flawed concept, was later affixed to the historical events, creating the myth of Christ’s death and resurrection. The purpose of this affirmation? Like Frazer, it is to remove Christian exceptionalism and frame Christ as simply another near eastern deity.

If we were, however, to posit the dying and rising God motif as abroad and alive in Palestine and the near east during the time of Christ, there is no evidence that the followers of these other Gods saw their deities in the way Christians saw Christ. That is, within the temporal and historical events of the day and as the Incarnation of a monotheistic God. All the other Gods within this disputed concept were seen as part of a larger polytheistic pantheon.  Their myths were not placed within ordinary time and space as part of the historical narrative. These are key points of difference.

At the very least, we can say that the fact that Christians saw Christ as different to other Gods makes Christians different. Cos no other Pagans saw their Gods in the same way. And it is this view of the Christ as different to other Gods, and the insistence of the promulgation of this view, that led Christianity to become the dominant religion of the Empire, as Bart Ehrman explores in his wonderful The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the WorldWe may not like this, at all, at all, but it seems to be the actual historical reality.


Easter eggs are often assumed to be a pagan symbol and practice adopted or stolen by “the Christians”. The idea of something being “stolen” requires (1) a thief, (2) a victim of theft and (3) a conscious program of theft. This would require identifying a discreet group of Christians in early Christianity who targeted pagan religions to plunder their symbols and practices. There is no evidence of this. In reality, the presence of older religious symbols and forms in a newer religion is most often because of organic cultural diffusion and syncretism. There is no theft involved.

Eggs were part of African and Ancient Near Eastern religious symbolism prior to Christianity. It seems clear however that early Christians in the Mesopotamian region used the egg in unique ways to symbolize the tomb of Christ and, through dying, the colour of his blood. This was the prototype of the “Easter egg”. So, yes, an association with older “pagan” motifs of death and rebirth, but uniquely linked to and drawn into the central Christian mystery. This, to me, makes the egg, as it is used in Christianity, Christian, not a Pagan interloper. Of course, the egg when used in Paganism is Pagan … and when eaten is a nutritious breakfast 🙂 Thanks.



True story.

I woke up exactly at midnight with Sinead in my head. But it was one of the few songs of hers I do not like:

“It’s been seven hours and fifteen days”.

*Sigh* I was wide awake and could not go back to sleep … the same line constantly over and over. This is not unusual in itself, though not very common for me. Just now, as I finally started this blog, to try and “explain” my experience of Formation, what was unusual edged into my consciousness.

I checked online, and yup … at midnight it WAS exactly seven hours and fifteen days since the start of Formation. My unconscious … or God … has sense of humour.

I had suspected this during Formation orientation week when I wrote on my Facebook page:

Reflecting after the third day of Formation and my mind supplies slightly altered Sinead: “I’m not supposed to be here at all now / It’s all been a gorgeous mistake / Sick one or clean one / The best one that God ever made.”  :/ so something is happening …

Perhaps my mind is using Sinead because she has been (and continues to be) a person of change and spiritual transformation, from one path, seamlessly, to another. Or maybe her music is just so good.

I’ve tried writing this up properly, (with references and all) to get it clear. No good. Heck, I’ve even tried poetry (def no good). So this is the best I can do. And it has to be enough, or I will crack.

In Formation I (and I suspect the other candidates) are being acted upon. I felt it strongly at times in Enquirers also. But that was a like a puff of air compared to the whirlwind.

It is not the training, and it is not the knocking about and knocking off barnacles of our minds, our preconceptions. And it is not personal spiritual unfoldment in the Divine. It is wholly other.  I can’t explain it.

Of course, we are there to be formed. I know, I know … But I now suspect that this forming is a mystery in itself, something unique and impossible to experience anywhere else. It is this sense of the other, which is not simply the Divine, yet is the divine acting upon us, that is unique for me. And it is this which is different – and the concept of difference is completely inadequate here – to any of the spiritual training and esoteric fellowships I have been a part of before.

This paraphrase from poet Stephen Parr expresses some of it:

we have not looked,
but something is walking with us

This other is not called, nor sent. Nor was she always there, like a cat in the shadows, and neither has she spontaneously appeared. I can’t explain it. Like the Pleiades I can’t look at her directly, and yet she is always there and fully alive. I can’t say she is making us more “utterly, real”, as Symeon the New Theologian would put it. That’s our unfoldment. This is something different and there is no way to say what …


Difficult Customers

I am between semesters at the moment, so have a little bit of time for this blog at lunch rather than reading furiously 🙂 This is not a reflection on liturgy per se, but on what occurs in liturgy, in church.

A while back I attended the Armistice Day service at the Cathedral. We were running a parallel Peace Making Conference in the Hall next door, so I came in late and sat at the back, the Cathedral already full. Stacks of plastic chairs were made ready for extra people. You know the sort I mean; they were old when I was a lad, type things. I sat one of these, near the stacks themselves, making them available for latecomers.

downloadAbout 20 minutes into the service, an elderly woman slowly and painfully walked in looking for a spot. The Cathedral ushers cast sideways glances and ignored her, and she them. I surmised she may be “known” to them – a “difficult customer”. She hobbled over to our direction and I stood up to offer her a chair from the stack. Now they were all brown, cheap plastic, identical in design, size and function. But a few were lighter brown than the rest.

I lifted the top chair – generic dark brown. She paused and then vigorously shook her head in disdain. She wanted a light brown chair and stabbed her walking stick at such a one, several layers down in the stack. Yes, a difficult customer: a chair is a chair, after all.

I proceeded to unpack six chairs from the top, grab the chair she wanted and re-stack the chairs – not an easy thing to do at the back of a crowded cathedral. Having obtained the favoured shade, I placed it down for her to sit. In moving closer to her, our eyes met, and I fell in love.

I did not know her name, her background or anything about her. But I could tell from her struggling gait, arthritic hands, tremors and lined face she had suffered in life. Yet here she was, someone our society has dismissed – elderly, sick, difficult – somehow finding the strength to insist on getting what she wanted. In that moment she displayed strength and beauty I will always remember. She asserted herself, her personhood, her divine right to be, to live to be in communion with the world. Compared to that, me having to move six chairs was nothing.

And this happened because of the Church. It made room and gave this imago dei the space to be herself. These moments of grace do not, cannot, happen in places where there is no room for the difficult customers. My rector once told me a story of complaining to her Archdeacon about another difficult customer. He came occasionally to her church, a loud, opinionated bigot who people naturally were repelled by. She wished he wouldn’t come to church. “But”, said the Archdeacon, “if he can’t come here, where can he go? Who will have him?”

And so it is.

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

The Greeting of Peace

One of the most important parts of the Eucharist is the Greeting of Peace. Its significance, however, is often overlooked. Which, together with the Anglican tendency for  Brownian motion when giving the Peace, I find a tad off-putting.  So, let’s briefly examine some of the theology of the Peace, using the Second Order for Holy Communion of A Prayer Book for Australia (APBA). This will probs also apply to many other Western orders for Holy Communion.

The importance of the Peace is shown within the structuring and division of the rubric. This is not based on length, but theological and liturgical importance. The Greeting of Peace is of short duration, but of profound importance theologically and so is allocated its own section heading. Within this section is also the Presentation of the Elements , which links the Peace to the Great Thanksgiving to follow. The Presentation has its own rich theology, but all that concerns us here is that Presentation is made by the people who have been united by the Peace.

The theology of the Eucharist, and thus the Peace, cannot be separated from the theology of the church and the ecclesiology of the church. This centres on the Patristic identification of Church with Eucharist through the Bishop as a symbol of the unity of the Church.[1]  The bishop is heir to the apostles, commissioned and empowered by Christ to ‘remember’ (not-forget) Christ through the Eucharist until Christ comes again (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The bishop, and through her oversight, the priests in her stead stand therefore in place of the Apostles representing Christ to the people of the Church. Christ is present in the Church, the presidency of the Eucharist and the Eucharist itself as one unified symbol and mystery. None of the theology of the Peace described below makes sense unless it constantly refers to this reality.

Some of this Eucharistic theology is embodied in church architecture and liturgy. Here is a simplified plan of a church building (diagram 1). Upon the plan we may map several important binaries or polarities (depending on your theology), diagram 2.

church layout
Diagram 1.
Church Layout with polarities
Diagram 2

We see here the idea that once passing the liminal state of the doorway, coming out of the world, the people of God, the holy church, are within a perpetual journey, from our human nature to the divine nature, from our sin and separation to theosis, from death to life. This is a graphic representation of the understanding of the Church Militant as a church in exile, still wandering through the wilderness. You may like to keep this diagram in mind as we proceed.

When we structure the rubric of the order for Holy Communion (and that of the Peace), we see a core theological feature of the service: the people participate in the liturgy, mostly through a process of responses to actions by the liturgical team. At the Peace:


Priest: We are the body of Christ.

Response: His Spirit is with us.


Priest: The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Response: And also with you.


The people give the Sign of Peace and RESPOND to that Sign.

The theology of this call-response is a sign of a response to God’s call, as she calls the people out to form the ekklesia. The people respond to God’s call and also call to God, who responds via the priest, representing Christ to the people.[2] The call of God and our human (and collective liturgical) response to God is part of our unfoldment in God, being called to be the person God created us to be as Trinitarian imago dei.

“Christ’s presence in people as they respond responsibly to God’s call reconstitutes their individuality in a transformed orientation on God and others.”[3]

This Eucharistic structure of participation via call-response at the Peace is transformative. This transformation, however, is towards personhood, not individuation, since it is initiated by God and as a response to God. The Peace has a flowing three-fold structure. (1), the church is affirmed as the Body, that is the visible, manifest aspect of Christ in the world. (2), this affirmation then allows the priest, as persona Christi, to mediate the Peace, the great Shalom, balance and harmony, to the people. (3), the people then affirm this back to the priest, strengthening the relationship between them and Christ, with peace as the medium.

This is a point where the people should initiate the action. Nowhere in the rubric does it indicate the Priest should call the people to act, though many priests do (“Let us offer one another a sign of God’s peace”).  The initiative of the people is very significant. Just as they have received the peace, they have to, from their own motivation, give that peace to the world. Theologically the persons they share the peace with represents the entire world, and thus there is no need to wander around the church giving peace to everyone. Your friend is two pews up, and next to you is someone who give you the Heebie Jeebies? Good. The peace is not personal. I mean … srsly? 🙂 🙂

the-peace (2)

The people are reflecting the peace they have been given via the priest as persona Christi. As such one person should offer the peace with “peace be with you” and the other should respond with “and also with you”. This exchange mirrors the people receiving the Peace from the priest, who represents Christ. This theological mirroring is totally broken if both people initiate, “Peace be with you”.

Via this mirroring, the people are drawn into acting themselves in persona Christi with other people and to see each other as Christ. This is why, theologically, the Peace is one of the most important parts of the service. The Peace is thus a sign of the renewed community that Christ sought to establish on earth, particularly see in John’s Gospel. The Peace is a physical action and sign that the people obey the command to love one another. By doing so they, as a unified community, may be ready to encounter the presence of Christ as body and blood.

Thanks 🙂

[1] Zizioulas, John, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop during the First Three Centuries. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Mass, 2001: part one.

[2] Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness

Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964: chapter 3, paragraph 28. Accessed at:

[3] McFadyen, Alistair. “The Trinity and Human Individuality: The Conditions for Relevance*.” Theology, vol. 95, no. 763, Jan. 1992, pp. 10–18, doi:10.1177/0040571X9209500103.


Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

Humanity and Creation II – a sermon given Sunday 9 September 2018

Text of a sermon given at St Hilda’s Anglican Church, North Perth, Sunday 9 September 2018.

Genesis 1: 1-31, Psalm 33: 1-9, John 1: 1-14.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For many churches September is the season of Creation. And many churches this month will focus on both the beauty of God’s earth, and the ongoing damage being done to her. A single example of such damage revealed this week was release of coal-laden water near the Great Barrier Reef.

While it is easy to reject such environmental vandalism, which leaves our seas, rivers and forests polluted and degraded, it is harder to see that the root cause of this vandalism lies at the heart of such benign activities as eco-tourism and even nature documentaries.

In both cases however, the environment – the Land – is seen as separate to humanity, to be used as we see fit. The first, for short term private economic gain, the second for a short-term private experience of ‘nature’.

Such an impoverishment of Creation, I would argue, may be well be considered as similar to blasphemy.

For within our scriptures there is an unexplored understanding of Creation which, if it was fully embraced would change our world, utterly, completely and irrevocably.

9th or 10th century Anglo-Saxon font from St Hilda’s.

In our first reading from Genesis, God famously declares Creation as good. Everything, from the tiniest spore of fungus to the great, overwhelming panoply of galaxies that surround us – all created, completely out of exuberant love, by God as his ‘good Creation’.

Crucially however, humanity is not created separate to Creation – to despoil or to enjoy. In this first account of Creation we are created as an image of God, on the sixth day as part of the sweep of Creation. The single stated purpose for our existence; to be stewards of Creation.

Genesis continues with another account of Creation where we are formed from the dust of the ground, Adam the earth creature, formed from Adamah the earth herself. Our reason for existence – to tend a garden.

And what is the nature of this ground, this Land, this earth we are created to tend and are formed from? – Our psalm today is clear:

The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

The earth beneath us right now – full of love. The soil we dig our hands into as we garden – full of love. The food we eat – grown within and out of steadfast love.

Christianity enthusiastically declares that we are not just connected to the earth – separated but linked entities. It says boldly and clearly that we are formed of the world, as part of Creation, as part of the land. And this is why even activities such as eco-tourism, which may reinforce the separation of humanity and Creation, need to be considered with care.

We are of the earth, we are part of the seamless tapestry of the unknowable economy of Creation. Here in Australia we are blessed to learn this truth by listening to the voices of our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions who have lived it for 60 000 years.

One of those voices is the Reverend Lenore Parker, a Yaegl elder from the country we now call northern New-South Wales. She is responsible for the beautiful and powerful prayer. “A thanksgiving for Australia”, included in our prayer book. I’m sure this has been prayed here more than once, you probably know it. It begins “God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit’ …

I heard Aunty Lenore speak last year at the Whadjuk-Bibulumum day at Wollaston Theological College. One of the many things she said has remained with me. Speaking about the church, our church, she said, despite its name, the church would remain the Church of England in Australia unless it opened itself and welcomed the Land into the church.

Note, she did not say welcome our first nations peoples into the church – which is another story – but the Land itself.

What would this look like? Our church filled with the Land? I am not sure, but I expect it would be very good.

And our Gospel today gives even more Good News – that all things – all of Creation – including you, and me and everyone we know, was brought into being through Christ.

Without him not one thing came into being

This means everything within this amazing 90 billion light years span of space, full of galaxies, stars, planets, comets, mountains and lakes, and … us. We are ALL brought into being through Christ, created to tend and to garden and …

Well, the reading goes onto to outline our destiny our telos, our endpoint,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

So … here we are, gardeners of Creation, formed from the earth herself, made in the image of God and destined to be children of God. It really cannot get much better can it?

God however, only gives us the power to become children of God. We are not fully formed, we are not yet fully perfected as she wishes us to be – we still have work to do – in the garden! And we still have to unfold and become the person God made us to be and calls us to be at every moment of every day.

Our tradition teaches that we become more the person God calls us to be through communion. Communion with God as Trinity, communion with the redemptive love of Christ through body and blood, communion with each other, and communion with Creation.

Creation is inextricably linked with humanity’s spiritual growth, as we are creation also. And again, this is something our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions can provide much insight into. We cannot fully understand this mysterious economy of salvation; but we trust that as we participate more in the life of God, Creation itself is affected by that participation. And as creation itself unfolds in its God created purpose, the more we unfold.

Being made in the image of God, as we love and care for Creation we help bring Creation towards what it is meant to be. This is why we’re the gardeners. Since we are made in the image of God, God can be present through us, through our conscious choice – and so, through us, God may tend to her Garden of Creation.

So as followers of Christ, we worship God; As followers of Christ we are one with Creation and as followers of Christ we bring Creation to its fullness. Our life as Christians and as sustainers of Creation cannot be separated, since our God who is One, made us for this purpose.



Humanity and Creation – a sermon given Sunday 2 September 2018

Text of a  a sermon given Sunday 2 September, 2018 at St George’s Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia. (Audio here).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

NASA-HS201427a-HubbleUltraDeepField2014-20140603Many churches worldwide celebrate September as the Season of Creation. It has become a month to focus on care for God’s creation through focused worship, liturgy, consciousness raising and practical action.

As Anglicans we’ve been doing this for some time now. The Anglican Communion Environmental Network was formed in 1999, around the same time other western churches started similar endeavours. The EcoCare Commission in Perth was created by Synod in 2006 and, as part of the Season of Creation, we have produced our annual Sustainable September resources for nearly a decade.

The Orthodox of course, beat us all to it, with Patriarch Dimitrios proclaiming September 1 as a day of prayer for creation back in 1989.

We can however be forgiven for thinking that even he was coming to the party a bit late.

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in 1972, the first Earth Day celebrated a couple of years earlier in 1970 and Greenpeace formed in 1971.

It is arguable then that the churches are responding to changing attitudes within the secular world rather than leading the way in the Care for God’s creation. This response is a very good thing and the churches have, by and large, embraced care for creation as a major aspect of Mission. It forms the Fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion, “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” This fifth Mark is the rationale for the existence of EcoCare in this diocese.

Recently EcoCare had one of those wonderful events we are all occasionally subjected to as part of modern life – a strategic planning day. Unlike many of such days however, we began, were sustained by and ended in prayer.

One of our key questions for the day, was why does EcoCare exist? As we have seen there are many wonderful secular responses to environmental degradation and sustainability. We have experienced one just recently with the banning of single use plastic bags. So, does EcoCare exist to simply add much needed energy to those endeavours, or are we called to something else? What unique insights, and vision could we bring to the table?

God provides the answer through revelation by reminding us of our foundations. In the Book of Genesis God famously declares Creation as good. Everything, from the tiniest spore of fungus to the great, overwhelming panoply of galaxies that surround us – all created, completely out of exuberant love, by God as his ‘good creation’.

Crucially however, humanity is not created separate to creation. In the first account of creation in Genesis we are created on the fifth day as part of the sweep of creation. The single stated purpose for our existence; to be stewards of creation. In the second account, we are formed from the dust of the ground, Adam the earth creature, formed from Adamah the earth herself. Our reason for existence – to tend a garden.

Scripture then does not reveal humanity as a disconnected observer in the world. It does not even reveal us as connected to the world. It says boldly and clearly that we are formed of the world, as part of creation, as part of the land.

And this is what we, as Christians, can bring to the environmental understanding of the day. The environmental movement is becoming very good at articulating how we as humans can, should and must respond to the ongoing degradation of the earth. Yet this is still a paradigm of us – humanity – responding to and acting upon, the earth, no matter how connected we feel to it.

Christianity challenges and dismantles that paradigm – we are of the earth, we are part of the seamless tapestry of the unknowable economy of Creation. Here in Australia we are blessed to learn this truth by listening to the voice of our aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions who have lived it for 60 000 years. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams puts it like this:

“Renewing the face of the earth, then, is an enterprise not of imposing some private human vision on a passive nature but of living in such a way as to bring more clearly to light the interconnectedness of all things and their dependence on what we cannot finally master or understand.”

The first concept here, Radical Interdependence, is now a key concept in modern ecology. Its ramifications and outworking’s are only just being fully explored. To this crucial awareness of interdependence, Christianity adds and insists on radical dependence. Dependence on the One who is both immanent and transcendent, beyond even this 90 billion light years span of space, full of galaxies, stars, planets, comets, mountains and lakes, and … us.

And we hear even more from the second reading today:

“Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God”

Creation, the environment, the earth herself is inextricably linked with humanity’s growth into the likeness of God. This means you and me and everyone we know. As Rowan Williams reminds us we cannot fully understand this mysterious economy of salvation; but we trust that as we participate more in the life of God, creation itself is affected by that participation.

These insights – ourselves as creation, our participation in God affecting creation, and our continuous dependence on a God who brings all into being at every moment – these are great gifts we can bring to the broader environmental movement.

So EcoCare will be sharing these insights over the next year as we connect more deeply with those outside the church working for the renewal of the earth.

This is part of our Mission, a mission that is shared by everyone here tonight. Because we all have the same Mission, received in Baptism. EcoCare focuses on one MARK of Mission, but we all share this One Mission, as we are One Church.

And so I look forward to us all here today sharing widely the Good News of humanity as creation, our utter dependence on God and our inextricable interweaving with creation as we unfold in Christ.

As a Commission all we really do is point out what’s already there, what we already know and what our tradition teaches us – but you do the work, because it is the Mission you have received from Christ.

As followers of Christ, we worship God; As followers of Christ we are one with creation and as followers of Christ we bring creation to its fullness. Our life as Christians and as sustainers of creation cannot be separated, since our God who is One, made us for single purpose.